California Shore Diving Tips & Tricks

Shore diving is a great way to enjoy the underwater world on your own schedule. Simply drive to the dive site, gear up with your buddy and then stroll into the water. In fact, you could plan a morning dive and be ready to meet friends for brunch. Alternatively, you could decide to meet for a dive after work to check out all the nocturnal critters, when there are likely no charter boats available.

Bottom times are also not limited when shore diving. You could choose to stay shallow and do a 2.5 hour dive, air permitting. As a photographer, my shore dives are almost always over 100 minutes, presenting many more photo opportunities.

Here are a few tips to help get you on your way to some great California shore diving.

malibu beach kelp forest gorgonians
Looking up into a towering kelp forest in Malibu, California.

1. Check the Surf Forecast

Surf, tides and wind all affect visibility while shore diving. This is important, but nothing comes before safety. Large surf makes entries hazardous, so be sure that the nearshore surf is lower than waist-high. Websites like Surfline, Swellwatch 3D, Magicseaweed and local lifeguard reports are great resources. The less surf, the better the diving potential!

beach divers in malibu
Two divers start shoreline preparation for a shore dive in small surf conditions.

2. Carefully Select Entry & Exit Points

The goal is to find the safest, easiest way to enter and exit the water. A sandy area is best, as cobbles and mossy rocks can be very slippery. Low tide might also expose more rocks, turning an easy high-tide entry into a rocky scramble. If the entry is exposed to surf, it’s important to spend a few minutes watching the waves so that you can time your entry (and exit) with the interval between larger sets of waves. Upon surfacing, you should also spend a few minutes floating to ensure you exit during one of these lulls between sets. Your BCD should always be inflated prior to entering the water.

beach diving mendocino headlands california
My dive buddies and I scouted out this calm entry during a dive trip to northern California.

3. Keep Gear Secure

Beach divers are notorious for losing expensive gear. You can greatly reduce risk of losing something by keeping it secure and attached. For example, don’t enter the water with mask around your forehead – pull it down around your neck or wear the mask and hold onto it if you do encounter a wave. Fins should always be donned in chest-deep water (were you lose efficiency with your feet) while facing the beach. This allows you to break any waves and immediately kick out past the surf zone.

Check out my system for carrying a camera while shore diving:

4. Wear Hard-Soled Booties

These will help to walk across uneven terrain and rocks with heavy scuba gear while also reducing foot fatigue during long kicks to and from the reef.

5. Bring a Warm Water Jug

…Especially during winter and spring months when the water is coldest. Trust me, you’ll really appreciate pouring warm fresh water down your wetsuit after the dive! You can keep the water warm in the car by wrapping the jug in a towel and/or old wetsuit neoprene while you dive.

I’ll see you out there!

Epic California Dive: The Redondo Beach Squid Run

california shore divers in malibu
A group of California shore divers prepare to to enter the water in Malibu.

Bonus Video 1! Beach Diving at Point Dume in Malibu

Bonus Video 2! Here’s a Night Beach Dive Video from a Few Years Back

This article was originally published on the PADI Scuba blog.


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Brent Durand

Professional writer and underwater photo instructor. Brent is an avid diver and surfer, and has led many intensive photo workshops around the world.